The bribes demanded by the police in Venezuela to let food trucks through end up being reflected in the price paid by the consumer.
Photo: AFP Agency
It all starts with “a routine inspection”. The reason is the same at each checkpoint where Ender Gómez is detained on the 900 km route to Caracas. For him, as for hundreds of Venezuelan agricultural producers, the police extortions are a martyrdom and an obstacle to his work.
This continued practice by the police or military has been denounced for more than a decade, and affects all cargo transportation, as well as private cars and passenger buses.
Ender leaves every week in his truck from La Grita, Táchira state, bordering Colombia, to the Venezuelan capital loaded with 20 tons of vegetables and fruits.
Along the way, roads in poor condition, fuel shortages await him – still critical, especially in the provinces – and dozens of police posts, which he knows can detain him for hours to check his cargo and documents in order, he says, to obtain a bribe.
“It’s an odyssey,” this “feriero” tells AFP, as merchants who buy in the fields and then sell in the cities are called.
He has a stall in a market in an affluent neighborhood of Caracas that operates on Mondays. He usually leaves on Saturday afternoons to arrive on Sunday at noon. The last time they stopped the cargo, he recalls, it took another two hours to arrive.
The officers “uncovered the load for us and well, it was fighting with them for having the car stopped and the load was sunny,” recalls this man who has spent 30 of his 48 years dedicating himself to this job. They seek “to get money out of you, but in the end you have to put up with it because if you start to leave [dinero a los policías] they get used to it and then we arrive here in Caracas and the profit has been left to them along the way”.
The battle is not always won, Ender has paid and left part of his merchandise somewhere in order to continue.
“The ferieros in each alcabala [retén] they have to leave a market”, complains producer Ramón Alirio Zamabrano, on his small farm in La Grita. “They leave merchandise that is cheap, such as cabbage, lettuce… There they say ‘we are not morrocoyes’ [tortugas]and you have to lower tomato, potato, the most expensive thing in the vehicle”.
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“Culture” of extortion in Venezuela
Security experts agree that police extortion is related to the low salaries received by these officials, which for a long time did not reach 30 dollars. Today, after an increase of 1,700% decreed by the government, a recently graduated officer of the National Police earns the equivalent of 114 dollars.
For its part, the prosecution has announced actions to counteract this type of situation, and even President Nicolás Maduro himself ordered last July to “remove the obstacles” on the roads.
But little has changed, maintain carriers and fair traders, who see this practice as a “culture”.
“There are some [funcionarios] they think they are gods… all they want is to annoy you”, criticizes a truck driver, frightened of reprisals. “One has to go through the hand of the ‘rattle’”, as he popularly calls extortion in this country.
“You look for the softest way” to deal with authority, he continues. “The stronger one gets, the worse. The only ones who have the power are them, not one”.
The bribes end up being reflected in the price paid by the consumer, which can be “three or four times more than the value paid in the field,” according to the president of the association of agricultural producers (Fedeagro), Celso Fantiniel.
The same happens with finished products, which have become more expensive than imported ones. An option in Táchira is a document issued by the authorities of the local government and that serves as a safe conduct, they call it a “protectorate”.
But it is not free: it implies the payment of a “tax” of 4% to 5% of the value of the cargo, and according to the producers, this role is only accessed by people “close” to the government.
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